Getting Unstuck and Staying That Way

The Internet was buzzing yesterday about a Reuters story on a US woman whose boyfriend left her in a bathroom for two years because she was agoraphobic and did not want to come out.  The details were macabre.  It said she had sat down on the toilet and got stuck to it.  Part of me is cringing and part is sympathetic to the feelings that held her there.

Agoraphobia is a serious illness that keeps many woman from living normal lives (forget about “escaping” for a moment).  It comes in many forms from life-threateningly serious (I’d say this woman is in this camp) to that nagging feeling that maybe it’s better to stay home than to go out, that somewhere there is a “safe” place where the bad things in life won’t find us.

I dealt with these issues in the form of an anxiety disorder before I became a travel writer.  Paradoxically, it was in going very far from home that I learned to get outside my front door without fearing a panic attack.  I learned that I could control myself in many types of environments and that I could take care of myself in a myriad of conditions and places.  I learned to have faith in my adaptability and survival skills. 

Just after September 11th (a few days in fact) I found myself feeling the old fears come up.  I was on my way to China, to participate in a press visit to the soon to be vanished Yangzte River Valley-something I didn’t want to miss because if I did it would be gone forever.  So despite my fears, I held my breath, got on the plane and flew to China.  Showing up in Shanghai, I called the press person who had arranged the trip.  Where were the other journalists?  A long pause was followed by an awkward cough.  “Um, well, they’ve cancelled.  You’re it.  It’s just you.” 

So there I was alone in China, preparing to cross the country solo.  I felt the old survival sap flowing throw my veins, this time for fight, not flight.  I calmed myself, arranged my documents and itineraries, confirmed the people who’d been set up to guide me and set off. 

When I got off the cruise portion of the trip, a beatific guide was waiting for me on the pier.  Lin, my guide, was beaming at me.  “Greetings!” he said.  “Your country is at war.”

I gulped, my heart in my throat.

“But don’t worry, China is a police state.  No terrorism here.”  The absurd truth of his statement shocked me out of my fear and Lin and I became fast friends.  The panic subsided through my action.  The need for a safe place receded in the midst of the adventure.

Agoraphobia and anxiety disorders are serious illnesses with many manifestations but I can attest to the fact that for me, adventure and the open road was the solution.  

There are many ways to push ourselves out of our internal “safe places” to the more open waters of self-discovery.  What are your cherished routes?

Gretchen Kelly

Escapes Editor